Racism at 40mph: Driving While Black and Female

Dr. Jameca Falconer

Jameca Falconer, Ph.D., Director of Counseling and Psychological Services | Logan University

Recent events, including the shooting death of Michael Brown, a young unarmed African American man in Ferguson, Missouri have re-awakened our nation to the continuing problem of race-based violence and racial profiling across the United States. These painful events brought needed national attention to the ongoing problems and complex inter-relationships of race and violence in this country. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defines racial profiling as a form of discrimination adding that discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion or nationality undermines our basic human rights.

Nowhere is this racial profiling more evident than in the driving/traffic ticket arena. Many American drivers get pulled over for traffic violations every day of the week, but it’s important to examine who is getting pulled over and why. A suburban Detroit police officer was recently seen on dash-cam video dragging a Black man (Floyd Dent) from his car during a traffic stop and kicking and punching him repeatedly. Recent Justice Department statistics suggest that a Black driver is about 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than a White driver or about 23 percent more likely than a Hispanic driver. In addition, Black drivers are more than twice as likely to be subject to police searches as White drivers; and they are nearly twice as likely to not be given any reason for the traffic stop (http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=dcdetail&iid=251). Thus, “Driving while Black” is, undeniably, a measurable phenomenon.

I can recount the numerous times that I’ve been stopped by the police in my car or followed in the store. One incident stands out in my mind. It occurred in the spring of 1993 as I was driving home from college. I was stopped by the police for speeding. However, a second police car was called to the scene and if that wasn’t enough, they called for the drug search dogs. Why? I guess because an African American female college student looks suspiciously like someone who would be transporting kilos of cocaine through Louisiana. Nevertheless, they found nothing and I was released without even a speeding ticket. Why? Apparently I had not been speeding after all.

So what happens when a person has been a victim of racial profiling? Speaking from personal experience, as a victim, I felt helpless, violated and angry. Victims of race-based profiling or discrimination know that they have suffered, yet they incur further psychological damage because the discrimination goes unacknowledged.

Patterns of racial profiling have a severe poisonous effect on the self-esteem of minority individuals who understand that they are often seen as unwelcome in this post-racial American climate. It begs the question, how do we put an end to this type of discrimination? Here are six steps to get this country moving in the right direction.

  1. Promotion of a sense of individual responsibility and “speaking out” against racism. Observers and bystanders must not be silent.
  2. Confrontation by the majority group (i.e., White Americans) and an exploration of the effects of these prejudices on minority groups. The majority’s role in minority problems must be actively examined and acknowledged.
  3. Begin a national conversation about race, violence, and the related unresolved traumatic history in our country.
  4. Educate teachers, pastoral care professionals and community group leaders to look for depression and behavioral problems in minority children who have been exposed to racial violence and profiling.
  5. Train law enforcement personnel in sensitivity to the psychological vulnerability of minority populations and urban communities.
  6. Examine state and local laws to see if they are designed to promote dialogue rather than to encourage violent confrontation.